Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Power of Opera

A while back a co-worker told me that while driving around in the car scanning radio stations, she inadvertently landed on the classical channel. “What is that?” her four year old daughter wanted to know. “Oh, that’s opera,” she said, skipping onward. “No, no, turn it back!” the little girl demanded. So they listened to opera in the car.

When they got home, the girl made her try to find more opera on the radio.

I thought this was a nice story, so when I got home I created a CD that I called “Opera for Princesses” – mostly a hit parade of soprano arias – that I thought a four year old might enjoy. (Mind you, I have high expectations of four year olds.)

Here’s the playlist:

1. “O mio babbino caro,” Gianni Schicchi, by Giacomo Puccini (Renata Tebaldi)
2. “Viens, Mallika” (‘Flower Duet’), Lakmé, by Leo Delibes (Mady Mesplé & Danielle Millet)
3. “Sempre libera,” La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi (Renata Scotto)
4. “Habañera,” Carmen, by Georges Bizet (Tatiana Troyanos)
5. “Mesicku na nebi hlubokem,” Rusalka, by Antonin Dvorak (Gabriela Benackova)
6. “Quando m’en vo,” La Bohème, by Giacomo Puccini (Kiri te Kanawa)
7. “Mi chiamano Mimi,” La Bohème, by Giacomo Puccini (Angela Gheorghiu)
8. “Der Hölle Rache,” Die Zauberflöte, by W. A. Mozart (Edda Moser)
9. “Vissi d’arte,” Tosca, by Giacomo Puccini (Maria Callas)
10. “Je veux vivre,” Roméo et Juliette, by Charles Gounod (Ruth Ann Swenson)
11. “Caro nome,” Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi (Daniela Lojarro*)
12. “Liebestod,” Tristan und Isolde, by Richard Wagner (Hildegard Behrens)
13. “D’Oreste, d’Ajace,” Idomeneo, by W. A. Mozart (Carol Vaness)
14. “Un bel di,” Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini (Mirella Freni)
15. “Glitter and be Gay,” Candide, by Leonard Bernstein (Dawn Upshaw)
16. “Non più mesta,” La Cenerentola, by Gioachino Rossini (Cecilia Bartoli)

So, yeah, not all the subject material here is appropriate for preschool-age children, I’ll grant you that, and it’s possibly not the most diverse range of music I could have come up with, but I was aiming for things that were tuneful yet also conveyed a sense of drama without needing context. I also imagined the girl, some years from now, listening to a commercial or seeing a movie and thinking, “Hey…I know that!” (We can debate my choice of singers…but I stand by them.)

I ran into the co-worker again today, who had an update for me. Apparently the little girl listens to the CD every night. Last night they went to check on her, and she was crying.

“What’s wrong?” her mom wanted to know.

“This song makes me sad,” the girl replied.


* Y’all probably have never heard of Daniela Lojarro, and I haven’t really, either. It’s from one of those budget LaserLight CD’s, but it’s the most amazing recording of “Caro nome,” if you can find it. She takes the high E-natural at the end, floats it effortlessly and manages a flawless diminuendo into nothingness.


Quinn said...

That is awesome! I think you can now consider yourself a fairy godfather.

Kolot said...


I just wanted you to know that I've been reading your posts for some time now. I was baptized into the Episcopal church about a year ago and tomorrow I'll be 67. I'm gay with a boyfriend, not necessarily a lover. I guess there's a difference. I enjoy classical music, not necessarily opera but I do love a recording I have of Verdi's Requiem.

I was raised in Richland, Washington and have always enjoyed visiting the Oregon coast.

Hehe, I'm not on the vestry of the church and I guess I'm fighting them. They are a bit biased about a lot of things. Especially gays, non-Episcopals working for the church and other things.

I am from the US and retired in Sagada, a small village in Luzon, the most northern island of the Philippines. Sagada is in the Mountain Province at an altitude of 5000 feet, so it's not too tropical here, more like Pullman, Washington.

For the most part the people here are very nice, I have a nice house and volunteer as IT Manager at the hospital, Eposcipal Church and Saint Mary's School of Sagada, which is a private Eposcipal school.

I just wanted to get acquainted and thought we might start a conversation on email. My email address is

I guess from that you can tell my name is Kent Sinkey. :)

Anyway, I'll be pleased if I hear from you. Take care and I hope you have a better 3 day vacation next time.


PS: The local folks here are called Igorots. They have given me the Igorot name of Kolot so that's the name I'll post as. I hope to hear back from you. K

Joel said...

What was she listening to when she was crying? If it was "Glitter and Be Gay" I'm not sure it's that big a score.

Andy said...

She didn't know which track it was. Personally I'm hoping it was the Liebestod. Which isn't "sad" per se, but I'm not sure a four-year-old would have the words to describe the transcendance of that particular piece. Hell, I'm thirty-four and can barely describe it.

tully said...

I wonder if you have a few suggestions to get my foot in the door of operaphilia, maybe some hits with bass singers (that is my "range" although I've given up on performance almost entirely). Do you find that you gravitate mostly towards performances in your own range? I suppose if that were common, it would say a lot about people's approach to vocal music.

Andy said...

No, actually, I like pretty much everyone's music. I think if I had to pick a favorite voice type, it would be the lyric-coloratura. I am happy to refer you to some great bass/bass-baritones: Samuel Ramey, Boris Christoff (if you can get past the hopelessly Slavic diction), George London, Jose van Dam, Ezio Flagello (totally underrated, amazing signer), Cesare Siepi, Bryn Tefel...I guess those would be the biggies. Almost any Verdi opera has a grand bass part; the biggies would be Attila, Simon Boccanegra, & Macbeth. Also Gounod's "Faust," "Mefistofele" by Arrigo Boito, Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann," Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov"...if you can find it, Montemezzi's "L'Amore dei Tre Re" has a great pass role with a fantastic aria. Wagner wrote for a lot of basses, too, but those characters are usually real snore-fests (the Landgrave in Tannhauser, King Marke in Tristan, Gurnemanz in Parsifal). There's also Giorgio in Bellini's "Puritani," Whosiwhatsits in Donizetti's "Lucrezia Borgia" and Raimondo in "Lucia di Lammermoor," and Rossini wrote lots of great bass parts, especially "Semiramide." Does that help?

Andy said...

Damn there were a lot of typos there. I suck.

tully said...

Forget the typos- most people wouldn't be able to approximate the spelling on half your titles.

Thank you for the list. As a philosophy professor, I will have to compile a list of sophisticated interests that have nothing to do with philosophy so as to please my effete superiors, so this will be helpful indeed. :P

I guess the music might be good as well.

David in KC said...

Good list. Wish I'd had an opera daddy when I was four.

A sad aria I love is the Willow Song from Otello. Do you have a recommended artist for that one?

David in KC said...

Tully is really Little Cicero,isn't he?

Philosophy professor, indeed.

Andy said...

David! Nice to hear from you, hope you are well. Yes, LC lives on in his new persona. : )

As Desdemona, I am partial to Mirella Freni -- I think she is amazing in the recording with Herbert von Karajan and Jon Vickers; alas, it's not Vickers' best. Scotto is also excellent in the Levine recording with Domingo & Milnes, and then of course the classic is the other Karajan with Del Monaco and Tebaldi...but as marvelous as the singing is, I prefer newer recordings of Otello for the sound quality. Also...don't know how you feel about Renee Fleming (some people loathe her) but I think her version on the "Signatures" album with Georg Solti is pretty good.

tully said...

little cicero is a moron!